The Central Park Five Reviews

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Spencer S
Super Reviewer
March 29, 2014
As an in depth look into the heinous behavior of the New York City police department at the time of the case of the Central Park Five, this film digs deep into the motivations for these horrible choices to coerce, and the repercussions for five teenaged boys. Any film about false imprisonment is a tear jerker and fills you with compassion and anger. The film is quick to point out that the prison system incarcerates those they see as doing wrong, but does not remember them, or console them, for their false convictions, instead letting them go and shrugging as if to say "Oops." Ken Burns is always insightful and happy to show the cultural and ethno-political leanings of every event he covers. In this way we get the feel for the time period, the racial tensions between the police and racial minorities, and the fervor and rioting that took place. Still, it was a huge case that took the nation by storm, but once they were exonerated, no one cared, and that's what really makes this documentary stand out. Not only does this tell a story, but shows that no one cared about the ending.
366weirdmovies 366weirdmovies
Super Reviewer
½ February 6, 2013
The story of the five teenagers who were picked up in Central Park, charged with rape, and convicted based on suspect confessions, then freed after serving years in jail when DNA evidence identified the real rapist. A frightening reminder that whenever there's a horrible crime, society demands that someone must pay, and you don't want to be the one in the wrong place at the wrong time. NEVER TALK TO THE POLICE DURING AN INVESTIGATION WITHOUT A LAWYER PRESENT.
Harlequin68 Harlequin68
Super Reviewer
December 29, 2012
"The Central Park Five" is a heartbreaking and powerful documentary about five teenagers, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Kharey Wise and Yusef Salaam who were falsely convicted in the rape and assault of Trisha Meili in Central Park on April 19, 1989. As District Attorney Robert Morgenthau puts it, if only they had known then what they later knew when the youths were exonerated. But here is the rub. The correct evidence was there, if only they had wanted to look for it. Instead, there was a rush to judgment by the police in coercing their confessions and later in the press, which the documentary painstakingly details with a thoroughly credible timeline of events. Later, you can see how their lives were adversely affected, as Richardson's sister points out that they are as much victims as Meili.

Whereas it is safe to say that New York City has changed dramatically over the decades, it is not quite as "The Central Park Five" alleges, barely glancing over the changes in the police department, along with perceptions that go beyond just those concerning race. For example, Meili felt comfortable enough to jog in the park after dark, as Central Park has always been less a sacred space as Koch testifies(It's neat that he allows to be interviewed here, considering his past intemperate comments. It would have been nice to have gotten other officials on the record to see how some of them sleep at night.), than a commons for all of the city's people to enjoy, even as the documentary via the tabloids of the day would say otherwise.(Not to be facetious but there are two ways I can tell a neighborhood is safe: joggers and dog walkers.) By the way, the only thing stopping New York State getting the death penalty at the time was Mario Cuomo's courageous annual veto.
John B
Super Reviewer
September 19, 2012
In typical Ken Burns fashion, we have a magnificently laid out documentary that is not only the story of five innocent teenagers but the history of a City and its rough and tumble period during the eighties. Excellent.
Daniel D
Super Reviewer
½ November 14, 2012
The Central Park Five is a documentary I've had my eyes on for over a year, but just now got to watch it. Different than I thought, since it looked unbiased and two sided initially, but still lived up to my expectations. Five black teenagers are charged with a rape and beating they never committed, and are incarcerated. The interviews with these men are highly emotional, but the NYPD, the police department responsible never comments. These boys were fed a confession, and this is the importance of not just knowing your rights, but most importantly using them. The 5th amendment is a wonderful thing, police are experts at forcing out confessions, that aren't always true. Back to the film, I love the large sample size of those being interviewed. Never makes you exhausted of an interviewee, and ranges between lawyers, those accused, and a juror. The film has dark humor, but is overwhelmingly a drama documentary, and just with testaments could become a tear jerker for some.
Jeffrey N October 9, 2014
Brutal. Sad. Frustrating. Irritating. Simple evidence was completely ignored all for a very racially-charged indictment and prosecution. There aren't enough Law & Order episodes to compare to something this repulsively true. While longer than I believe it needed to be, it's still very well constructed and told.
Jeffrey N December 26, 2013
Brutal. Sad. Frustrating. Irritating. Simple evidence was completely ignored all for a very racially-charged indictment and prosecution. There aren't enough Law & Order episodes to compare to something this repulsively true. While longer than I believe it needed to be, it's still very well constructed and told.
Robyn N October 3, 2013
"The Central Park Five" presents the facts of the case with clarity, and it is a courageous, revealing look at the often complex and broken legal system in the United States.
Thomas W April 27, 2013
"Justice is blind" isn't supposed to mean this. As documentaries are supposed to make a viewer think and ponder and wait and think some more, The Central Park Five succeeds on that front while also making one's blood begin to boil. This is a documentary about a wrongly-convicted set of innocents who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time ... and who also happened to be the wrong color (uhm, they won't say it; but ...). Based upon the infamous 1989 jogger rape case in New York City's Central Park in which a white woman was beaten, bound, raped and left for dead; Central Park Five is about five young boys between the ages of 14-17 (all having a darker skin tone) who were coerced into giving false statements as New York detectives, police and attorneys wanted a closed-door case to establish that NYC was toughening-up on crime (per beloved mayor Ed Koch). That their (coerced) false testimonies didn't even match up and NO DNA linked a single one of them to the crime scene, their skin tone was enough to convince the powers that be that they were guilty (because they had been causing trouble elsewhere in the Park that night ... and actually at the EXACT same time the woman was raped). Much like the West Memphis Three case, this is yet another example of justice being blind. One of the more interesting elements of the Ken Burns film to me was seeing his portrait/story of 1980s NYC and how night/day different it is compared to the city of today. While some things have changed, others have remained the same.
Bret G November 20, 2012
The justice system's abject failure would be hilarious were it not true. So complete was the perversion of the truth that it allowed a rapist & murderer to demonstrate more integrity than the whole of New York. 'The Central Park Five' is a quietly enraging portrayal of human failing. Watch, but watch with caution. Rent it.
Allix R October 12, 2014
The Central Park Five was a film if spontaneous actions and it kept you guessing throughout the movie. This movie made it visible to all people ho are familiar and not familiar with the case that during this time the way the police in New York City were very corrupt and obviously did not know the meaning of innocence in this situation. They wanted to reach out to all of the people in the United States to raise awareness for this issue especially in the time before their civil suit was resolved. The men that were shown in this video deserved to get their story out about how the police treated them and how they were on a good track in life which was messed up because of poor decisions made by the police in this time. This movie was well put together and allowed the audience to spend the whole film guessing every awful thing that will happen next to these innocent men. Even though the film has a happy ending for the men, the audience is still upset with every poor decision made by the police and it sickens them to see how this poor decision effects the children of this story.
Alex G June 28, 2014
A heart-breaking examination of the injustice done to 5 kids by our system. Like all great documentaries it speaks to many truths. My biggest complaint is how easily they skip the years these men were in jail.
Alejandro R November 24, 2012
Brilliant documentary laying out a set of social injustices in 1989 New York City. I remember being roughly the same age as these 5 teenagers and in high school in Brooklyn when it happened. I recall my history teacher pulling out the newspaper and showing us the front page with the headshots of these kids and the term "wilding" appearing in large bold letters. I also remembered sitting next to a black classmate and both of us discussing how the kids were all black and Hispanic. This in a predominately black and Hispanic high school and I remember the awkwardly tense environment this popular case created in my school among the student body. The film even dealt with that in a very straight forward manner that I very much appreciated. That's an easy thing for people to want to shy away from and it takes some courage to admit it and bring it to light.

Another thing this film portrays is how the police and district attorneys regarded these kids as guilty from the beginning before it even reached the newspapers. Then they became guilty in the eyes of the media, which then landed the final blow by creating the same guilty conclusion in the minds of much of the public. "The Crime of the Century" it was called. And in the end of it all, it turns out they were actually innocent. So I guess it was the crime of the century---just not one perpetrated by these kids, but instead the one perpetrated by the system.

The original case received so much media attention in 1989 that I think it was impossible to not hear something about it and this was the days before the internet and easy 24-hour access to news. Meanwhile, when a black woman was raped and thrown off of a roof in Brooklyn on the same day, it got very little attention. The racial implications in this Central Park jogger case were very disturbing and well elucidated in the film.

Taking 5 14-16 year old kids and coercing them into giving false statements of guilt just to close a case under pressure. It sadly also resulted in the actual guilty person to roam free and commit more rapes while these innocent kids were being convicted.

This is an incredibly sad tale and I had been wanting to see this film since it first came out in theaters. It brought back a lot of memories. It is tragic indeed and not something that should be forgotten, but unfortunately their exoneration got very little attention so most people from the time I'm sure have no idea of how this all turned out. I didn't even know until I heard of this film, which was 23 years later.

The film is an important film for that reason. It is the greatest public statement of the injustice that was carried out in a number of different ways by different criminal justice departments of our system. Legendary documentarian Ken Burns and his daughter Sara, as well as her husband, did an excellent job of bringing the social/political implications and ramifications to light with both heart and a commitment to factual rigor.

This film really should be watch by many more people, especially those of us from this time period. I conveniently saw it on netflix.
Natalie M November 20, 2012
An important documentary about the great injustice done to five boys in the 80s.
Danny T February 1, 2014
The main evidence against the five African American teenagers, in the rape and assault of a white female jogger in Central Park, was coerced video-taped confessions, and through master documentarian Ken Burns' searing film, they're back before the camera to retell the events the way they really happened.
Vincent C January 17, 2014
Great documentary that will make you angry and should make us think twice about rushing to judgment
Michael S ½ November 25, 2013
Solid documentary chronicling the injustice behind the arrest of five youths after a vicious sexual assault in Central Park.
TheFeldster TheFeldster August 20, 2013
When I reviewed "In the Name of the Father" many years ago, I observed a "true-story" effect, where any story can gather more weight and meaning if it is based on a true story. Turns out that effect is even more pronounced in documentary form, if "The Central Park Five" is any indication.

This is nothing more, and nothing less, than a study of racial profiling, and how inherent it is in all of us, whether through the media or from the attitudes of our elders and peers. And, of course, the dire and tragic consequences of such attitudes.

It truly was an eye opener, and a film I think more people should see.
Robyn Nesbitt Robyn Nesbitt October 3, 2013
"The Central Park Five" serves as a warning about legal incompetence, innocent lives destroyed, and a judicial system vulnerable to manipulation. The documentary details a nightmare scenario for five Harlem teenagers facing hard time, and the condemnation of America for a crime they didn't commit. The production sets the situation immediately, introducing the viewer to NYC in the 1980s, where Wall Street is in the process of rebuilding its reputation, while crack ravages the inner city, creating an explosive racial divide.

The film examines the infamous 1989 Central Park Jogger case, where a young white woman is brutally beaten and raped in New York's Central Park. At the same time, a group of five young black and Latino teenagers were quickly arrested for the crime and imprisoned. Following swift arrests by law enforcement officials, the prosecutors proudly declared the conviction as a step forward in the reclamation of a the city. Despite the lack of concrete evidence, all five are found guilty on multiple charges. Raymond Santana, Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, and Kharey Wise each spent between six to 13 years in prison, professing their innocence, while maintaining that it was a coerced confession to the crime. However, a chance encounter between the oldest of them and convicted serial rapist Matias Reyes, who years later yields his free admission of sole responsibility for the crime, and the claim is further substantiated with DNA evidence.

The documentary's approach seamlessly blends past and present, re-examines the assault, and walks you through what happened to the teenagers, from their arrest through their exoneration. Burns captures the complexity of history with startling results, yet "The Central Park Five" isn't quite as comprehensive as hoped, and fails to add anything substantively new to the story. Additionally, an element of balance is missing that would have turned a very good documentary into an exceptional one.

"The Central Park Five" presents the facts of the case with clarity, and it is a courageous, revealing look at the often complex and broken legal system in the United States. Unfortunately, there is no avoiding the conclusion presented by historian Craig Steven Wilder: "Rather than tying [the case] up in a bow and thinking that there was something we can take away from it, and that we'll be better people, I think what we really need to realize is that we're not very good people."
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